David Cuomo of Bella Nashville Bakery begins his work day while most of us are asleep, grinding organic heirloom wheat berries before the sun has thought to rise. As owner/operator of Bella Nashville Bakery, he believes this is how fresh baked bread begins— with an old-world approach using the purest ingredients. Each loaf, baguette, and bun is shaped by hand and pulled fresh out of the oven in his local East Nashville store. Locally-sourced produce and eggs, house-made pickles and condiments, and house-cured meats build every specialty sandwich. This dedication to ingredient integrity is why Bella Nashville Bakery has become the most sought-out spot for food-conscious Nashvillians, and one of the most popular vendors at the East Nashville Farmers Market for artisan breads and made-to-order sandwiches. And though it was his love for music that brought the Connecticut native to Tennessee, it is his talent for bread-making that has established his reputation as an exceptional baker and chef.
Like many of our food artisans at the market, Dave grew up with the cuisine of his heritage. “We were New Haven Italians,” he says. But with a military father, the family spent years bouncing around the States, and though the towns and regions were changing, they made sure to keep their Friday night traditions the same. “No matter where we were in the country, every Friday night was pizza night. Making pizzas as a family was how we stayed connected to our roots.”
During his teens, he worked at a few commercial pizza joints, but as he matured, he relocated to NYC where he discovered Anthony Mangieri’s wildly popular Una Pizza Napoletana in the East Village. This exposure to Mangieri’s food-purist philosophy first inspired Dave to master the skill himself. He began to research the art and science of making bread on his own. He studied the history, ancient techniques, and natural fermenting processes that occurred in kitchens long before store-bought ingredients existed. Whole grain wheat flour is house-milled—never bleached or adulterated—and yeast is naturally-harvested wild from the air. He experimented through trial and error to accomplish his ultimate goal—a dough that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Soon after his transition South, Dave was serving his perfected Neapolitan-style pizzas at the award-winning Patterson House. His next step would be the launch of his own pizzeria, Bella Nashville, in May of 2012. From that venture naturally sprung the East Nashville bakery addition in April of 2014.
Fast forward to one year later, and Bella Nashville Bakery is a successful indie establishment. Customers— both east and west—file in from the streets to order off a 25-ft chalkboard and tap their feet to Elvis Costello. The bakery offers three crusty loaves (a sourdough, a whole wheat desem, and a demi-baguette), a wheat sandwich loaf, and a breakfast bun. Loaves can be purchased whole, straight off the rack or sliced and bagged to take home. Specialty sandwiches come in 3 styles: breakfast, lunch, or a build-your own, all with locally-grown or house-made accouterments.
“We have a very large customer base from Europe,” says staff member Alyson Grench. “They’re used to fresh bread and the processes we use here.” Bo Arrington from the sandwich line says that it’s the whole-grain taste that sets Bella’s bread apart. “It’s got substance to it. It’s hardy—you can really taste the freshness of the grains. That’s why I love it and never feel bad about eating it.”
Bella Bakery became an addition to the East Nashville Farmers Market in 2014. Dave says he wanted to meet more of his community, and he certainly has. Adults and kids alike love visiting the “bella booth” to view the giant loaves and taste samples of their fresh breads. And during tomato season, he is a favorite purveyor of the local tomato sandwich, made with sourdough, fresh sliced heirlooms, and a homemade aioli. It’s so popular, you have to arrive early before he sells out.
In closing, Bella Nashville Bakery gives our customers the opportunity to purchase fresh, wholesome bread baked a mile from our market and enjoy seasonal sandwiches made with Tennessee farm ingredients. For all of us at the ENFM, that’s something very special. But for Dave, it’s just another day at the grind.